Sunday, January 28, 2007

Volver (2006)

Going to see a Pedro Almodóvar film is a lot like taking a ride on a metal roller-coaster. Unlike the primitive wooden ones, you can relax knowing that you're not going to get jerked around a lot while watching the rush of pretty colors and participating in the squeals of delight. Right from the get-go, the characters are in the middle of their lives and you get to watch them sizzle and spark and diffuse the screen with everyday moments that could easily have been you only an hour ago. One of the best treats of the Spanish director's peculiar gift -- specifically, his restraint in ladling out huge dollops of back story to queue us up to the present -- places the story in the heart, asking only for your rapt attention. He does this so well that I imagine the only better way to watch one of his films would be as a native speaker of the language.

Familiarty with Spanish customs seems an almost negligible dimension, though, so it sounds just as plausible that, other than the slight inconvenience of non-speakers having to read subtitles, his films are seamless and character-based enough that the audience loses very little by virtue of that. And that, to me, is what really makes Almodóvar stand out among his peers and predecsessors. Not many non-English speaking directors -- nor, even non-Hollywood, for that matter -- can claim the kind of fanatic love and loyalty while also reaping the benefits of a very wide audience. Indie directors would be accused of mainstreamism and many foreign film directors would be accused of a cultural watering-down of their vision.

But Almodóvar is Almodóvar, world without end, Amen. Or so it seems...

Anybody disagree or have an insight? I'd like to do something different this time, and open this up to discussion before proceeding with the usual straight-forward review.

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Blogger dennis said...

hey Johanna, still trying to make a comment here. Glad you got my e-mail. I got the picture you took of me back on my bravenet blog and there is also a picture of my daughter there. So check it out.

January 31, 2007 5:15 PM  
Blogger SisterRye said...

I agree that he doesn't pander to the audience by overexplaining things, or by being overt about the backstory. His films are so much fun.

I enjoyed Volver, but not as much as Talk to Her. Penelope Cruz' maturity (a la Sophia Loren) is lovely to witness and I basked in it when she polished graves, clapped her hands, and clicked her tongue. I'm not sure what was missing in Volver, maybe some of the mystery and strangeness I've seen in his previous works. I had things figured out too soon, even though we jumped into the heart. It was obvious the heart was alive and pumping real blood. The ghost story was a little too pneumatic, pumped up with gas.

February 09, 2007 5:59 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Right right! First, I rather like this analogy:

Going to see a Pedro Amoldovar film is a lot like taking a ride on a metal roller-coaster.

Because also like a roller coaster, the ride goes more or less the same each time out, yeah? Which leads to this:

Familiarty with Spanish customs seems an almost negligible dimension

More important to appreciating... no, enjoying Almodóvar is a familiarity with film customs. He takes genre tropes, film conventions, citations and arranges them in a way that isn't necessarily terribly novel, but that is colorful, fun exciting...

When we compare roller coasters we compare the small in ways in which they're different: This one starts fast on a steep slope, this one goes into a tunnel, this one dips into water. Likewise, we compare the small differences in Almodóvar films: this one features Penélope Cruz being simultaneously maternal and sexy, this one seems to focus on the way red functions in a commercial society (murder/lipstick), this one actually deals with men. But it's all the same ride...

I think the it's the same part of my brain that likes De Palma that likes Almodóvar...

I really don't see anything you've said that I disagree with!

February 09, 2007 9:40 PM  
Blogger johanna said...

sister rye-

I can see the Sophia Loren channeling. Good eye. I'll agree that this is no Talk to Her or even an All About My Mother or Women on the Verge... and can understand the mild disappointment. Unfortunately, I didn't share it...I learned that her mother was alive when she did (and even then I was skeptical -- I preferred that she be a ghost.)

It seems he's possibly guilty of merely over-sentimentalizing the tiny details when it comes to the mother figure, at some sacrifice to his creative abilities, eh?

But you're also confirming my continually suspiscion that too often we sabotage the movie-going experience for ourselves because of previous ones and expectation.

(this has become a point of some vacillation...)

That's not to say that you've no right to expectations, especially from someone of Amaldovar's calibre, but where the line is drawn between the audience's contribution to the film as a willing participant and witness continues to haunt me...


I love this:

"This one starts fast on a steep slope, this one goes into a tunnel, this one dips into water."

The more I think about his various works, the more I'm amazed that despite the great similarities of content and recurrent themes that he manages to recreate an entirely different brushstroke for each.

I loved De Palma when I was a kid. I used to be allowed to stay up late to watch Crime Story on school nights -- I think I can see the slight resemblance, at least where colors are concerned.

Did De Palma like his colors more muted? The memory lapses...

February 10, 2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

While I don't recall much by way of faux-Technicolor splendor in the films of De Palma, he makes what I would call colorful films...

The connection between these two filmmakers is largely abstract and it's largely in my mind. To enjoy each of their films is to take pleasure more in the film itself... it's like the pleasure I take in good food, wine, whiskey, etc. There's a private, personal connection between me and the object that trumps any consideration of context, any sociological concern...

February 13, 2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger johanna said...

I'm not a fan of most of De Palma's content...the guy puts me to sleep more often than not. But I often like his use of texture and what can sometimes feel like a very languishing departure from convention in an otherwise mainstream setting, like the swimminess in the in-space, still on-board scene in Mission to Mars, which I found visually likable without finding anything particularly attractive about the story.

In that sense, I often find myself loving fims that have very little in the way of sociological concern...if, by that, you mean no advancement of man's understanding of our plight, no movement toward enlightenment.

I thought that of Eyes Wide Shut, which was not the best way for Kubrick to end his career, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless (and despite Pollack's tinkering.) I went to see it once more in the theatre just to see the use of Christmas lights again.

I think in a way that Amoldovar's use of color -- not unlike John Waters', though obviously different, less garish -- sort of reminds the senses not to take the context too seriously, reminds that it is just a spectacle that we are watching and participating in, to some extent.

In many ways, that sort of leisurely approach to the screen seems so much more responsible than most...

February 13, 2007 3:07 PM  

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